Book Review: Barking Up the Wrong Tree

4 minute read


Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker is an collection of mental models for success in business and life. It spans common misperceptions about bell curves, nice guys, quitters, networking, confidence, and work life balance.

Here’s the paperback.

Utility: ⭐⭐⭐ (3/5)

Barker brings up some interesting points, but doesn’t substantiate them very well. Usually, the evidence in a given chapter doesn’t go beyond a single study and a handful of anecdotes. For sweeping claims like his, it felt like the nuance was missing. Setting that aside, the content itself is practically helpful for anyone looking to get ahead. I particularly enjoyed his advice for achieving work-life balance and for maintaining friendships.

Writing: ⭐⭐⭐ (3/5)

It’s a fun, casual read, easy to put down and pick back up. I felt like some chapters were unclear in their message and jumped around a little too much. The writing is solid: entertaining, but not exactly “gripping.”


  • Filtered leaders go through formal channels, getting promoted up the ladder. Unfiltered leaders come in through the window. Schools reward generalists who follow the rules; students with top GPAs perform well, but none change the world.
  • The “differential susceptibility hypothesis” suggests that certain genes are intensifiers. People aren’t necessarily better or worse, but respond to circumstance in more extreme ways, like dandelions versus orchids.
  • First and foremost, know thyself. To conduct feedback analysis, note your expectations the next time you start a project and analyze how the outcomes differ. Pick the right pond, an environment that aligns with your biases, talents, and preferences.
  • Flattery works even when they know it’s insincere. On the other hand, feeling powerless can be unhealthy and inhibiting.
  • People are takers, givers, or matchers. Givers end up at the very top and very bottom. The key is to find the right level of generosity: income peaks at around an 8/10 level of trust.
  • Tit-for-tat, the champion of prisoner’s dilemma tournamnets, teaches us to pick the right pond, cooperate first, reciprocate, and avoid being too clever. Getting teams to think long term will reward good behavior.
  • Work hard, but make sure it gets noticed. You can make your accomplishments known without being a jerk.
  • Pessimists are more accurate, but optimists live longer. The key is stories, which structure a chaotic world. To write your story, consider your resume values (professional) and eulogy values (personal).
  • Reframe work into a game. Stimulation in the form of minor goals increases happiness and life satisfaction.
  • Devote 5-10% of your time to experimenting with new things. Fail fast and fail cheap. Once you find your “thing,” consider quitting secondary commitments.
  • Premeditate obstacles so that you know how to respond. Use WOOP: Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.
  • People who are seen as leaders don’t necessarily know more; they just promote themselves better. Extroverted behavior - like speaking first - can help you establish leadership. Introversion is a better predictor of grades than IQ. Introverts can be relied on as experts.
  • To be a good friend: find people who are like you, listen and ecnourage others, be a giver, find superconnectors, meet up regularly, join groups, follow up, and show gratitude.
  • Confident behavior also makes you seem like a leader. It enhances self-control and encourages high risk/high return decisions. But overconfidence can make you seem like a jerk. Find a balance in self-compassion, an compassion for others that starts with loving yourself.
  • Price’s Law states that 10% of people will produce 50% of the output. Hard work plus ambition produces success.
  • Unemployment and overworking are both corrosive to health and relationships. Making work fun and setting aside time to let your mind wander can help you manage stress.
  • The metrics that matter are happiness, achievements, significance, and legacy. Don’t optimize, satifice - make decisions that sufficiently achieve outcomes.
  • Practical advice for work-life-balance: track your time, discuss with your boss, batch shallow work, schedule tasks (not just a to-do list!), control your context, and end your day.